Tanja Bjelanović: Each act of giving is valuable

Tanja Bjelanović is an activist who has worked in the field of philanthropy and sustainable development for the last two decades.  She lives what she believes in, so, besides professional enrollment, she is an individual donor to many development organizations and the feminist movement. Her publication „Towards financial sustainability of civil sector organizations in Serbia“ explains new ideas and models of financing in the civil sector. Working with numerous activist organizations and other organizations as well, she continuously contributes to the development of philanthropy, including the one which we all create and donate for – local feminist philanthropy. Recently our organization, together with Tanja, went through the process of mutual reflection on possible directions for our philanthropy practices, and now we had the joy of talking with her more about philanthropy. Tanja stands that there is no prosperity for us unless there is for others, and vice versa,“ and by others I mean people, animals, the planet, and the cosmos“. 

1.  You are professionally dealing with philanthropy and sustainable development issues for a while. How did you start dealing with those topics, and, according to your opinion, what connects them?

I started accidentally, more than 20 years ago.  Different circumstances brought me into great surroundings, one sinny pearl in those dark times.  And I immediately became interested in the topic,  perhaps because I bought that topic inside me, as I think that all people have good among themselves. The key issues here, for me are prosperity, development, and responsibility. Taking the responsibility for social development brings good for ourselves and for others.  Different is not possible. There is no prosperity for us unless there is for others, and vice versa. Meaning others, I mean people, animals, the planet, the cosmos.

2.  The field of individual philanthropy is becoming more important in the last decade in this region, because of lasting financial sustainability within non-governmental organizations. One of the trends is that the civil sector goes in the direction to collect individual donations, and at the same time, more people, comparing previous times, decide to support various non-governmental organizations with their givings. What is your view on the differences between individual donations to humanitarian actions and those to activist organizations and movements?

Since I have been deeper in the field of philanthropy, less I find connection with the sustainability of the non-governmental organizations,  but  I find more connection with beneficence as the act and progress within society. I work a lot with non-governmental organizations and I understand the need for sustainability, but I try always to return focus on the purpose of their existence so that philanthropy tends to social change for which those organizations pledge.

The development of philanthropy within the civil sector also opened the topic of supporting so-called humanitarian versus development goals. I think that those categories should not be opposed to each other. I consider myself an activist and I  work over 20 years in civil sector organizations, which deal with development topics, so it is more pleasant for me to donate to those topics. Then I feel enthusiasm and optimism. However, unfortunately, the need for humanitarian givings still exists. Those causes first produce my sorrow, but the gestures of empathy touch me and I appreciate them. It is not close to my heart specifications such as awareness-oriented and advanced donors. I do not value donors according to where they direct their support, it is important to do so sincerely and with love. Each act of giving is valuable. I myself send SMS messages for a sick child, and  I also have standing orders for development funds, I am trying to find some balance.

3.  You are the author of the unique publication „Towards financial sustainability of civil sector organizations in Serbia“. This brochure explains, among others, the new ideas and models of financing in the civil sector. Which alternative financial options do you recommend to non-governmental organizations and what are the most important messages on financial sustainability in your publication?

The main message is – it is possible! We have been stuck for a long time in negative attitudes, prejudices that we are specific, that „here it can not be“, „our mentality is different“, „bad economic situation“, ect. People everywhere do good, in this or that way, in each culture and economy, what is documented by research.

During the last year, I had a series of training on fundraising through philanthropy with numerous organizations and I was surprised I noticed a change the attitude. The organizations do not call the question of possibility but ask how to fundraise the funds.  Many already have good practices which share with others. That’s an excellent indicator!

The brochure gives detailed inputs, with a focus on legacy and reserve funds as models of stable and long-term financing. In the broadest sense, what brings sustainability is more local donors,  more flexible funds, and more reliance on our resources. I suggest taking a look at this link.

The first step is, definitely to believe in our ability and to encourage ourselves to start. It would be mistakes and downs, but those will be valuable lessons.  And there is no larger satisfaction, but someone, at least one individual, pays confidence in your work and supports what are you doing. That brings strength  to further and broader efforts.

4.  According to your long-time professional experience in the field of philanthropy and personal experience as a donor,  what inspired you to donate to the feminist movement?

Primarily my female friends. Although some of them do not know that you (feminist movement) exist (they found out from me, he, he), I always have them in my mind when I donate to feminist organizations. My experience showed me that friendships, particularly female ones, are important life values and strengths for me. Secondly, I am familiar with many women’s organizations in the region, and I acknowledge their efforts and have full confidence. Finally, it drives me also, personal experience of being a woman, me, my mother, my grandmother, great-grandmother, and other women…

5.  In the end, what is your feminist solidarity? What kind of solidarity do we need today within the women’s movement?

Understanding others and differences. In practice that would mean, appreciation of ideological differences within the movement, but also beyond the movement.  How much exclusivity could be damaging, on the other side dialogue and sharing information, knowledge, and resources, even with those whose states are far away from ours, could bring peace and prosperity.

Interview by Diana Miladinović